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Closing the book on an era of trucking leadership

Sept. 12, 2016
The recent announcement that Jerry Moyes, the founder and CEO of Swift Transportation, will retire Dec. 31 in a way signals that an era of trucking leadership is coming to a close.

The recent announcement that Jerry Moyes, the founder and CEO of Swift Transportation, will retire Dec. 31 in a way signals that an era of trucking leadership is coming to a close.

Moyes is but the latest “old school” trucking chief to announce his retirement – and by “old school,” I refer to a certain type of hard-scrabble executive, one who in most cases literally started out in the business driving tractor-trailers for a living.

The most famous, of course, is Johnnie Bryan Hunt – the founder of J.B. Hunt Transport Services – who retired in 2004 and tragically passed away three years later following injuries suffered after falling down in his home.

Forced to leave school in the 7th grade, Hunt went on to build a trucking and real-estate empire – also helping to build on the shipping container genius of fellow trucker Malcolm McLean by establishing the concept of truck-and-rail intermodal in partnership with the Santa Fe Railroad back in 1989.

So great an impact did J.B. Hunt’s support of “intermodalism” have that Council of Supply Chain Management Professionals (CSCMP) will induct him into its inaugural “Supply Chain Hall of Fame” class later this month joining luminaries such as Henry Ford, the founder of the Ford Motor Company, and the aforementioned Malcom McLean.

CSCMP cited J.B. Hunt as “one of the first trucking companies to move loads by rail” and one that now owns one the largest fleet of 53-foot containers in the world.

“Mr. Hunt’s induction into the Supply Chain Hall of Fame is an incredible honor and one our company is extremely proud of,” noted John Roberts, president and CEO of J.B. Hunt, in a statement. “His innovation and foresight forever changed the industry, setting the stage for a new era of intermodal.”

While Swift’s Moyes didn’t generate J.B. Hunt’s kind of “historical impact” on the freight industry, he did go from hauling steel as an owner-operator to creating one of the largest truckload carriers in the U.S. – with Swift operating some 20,000 trucks and garnering nearly $4.5 billion in revenues in 2015 – in just 50 years.

Richard Stocking – who joined Swift in 1992 and has served as Swift’s president and COO since 2010 – will be taking over the day-to-day duties as CEO for Swift, initially serving as Co-CEO with Moyes until Dec. 31. As of Jan. 1 next year, though, Stocking becomes sole CEO and Moyes transitions to “Chairman Emeritus” for the company he built, with Richard Dozer serving as Swift’s chairman.

A few other noteworthy leadership changes that also occurred this year include:

  • Clarence Werner, 78, the founder of truckload carrier Werner Enterprises, stepped down in May from the CEO position he had earlier reclaimed, though he remains executive chairman. Derek Leathers, 46, is now Werner’s president and CEO. Over his 17 year stint with Werner, Leathers has held numerous executive posts, including COO. Werner named him president back in 2011.
  • Though he’s not retiring per see, David Parker – often referred to as the “high-energy founder” of the Covenant Transportation Group (CTG) – took a step back from his involvement at the company back in February, turning day-to-day control over to Joey Hogan, who was promoted to CTG’s president. Parker, though, continues to serve as CTG’s chairman and CEO.

An interesting footnote to David Parker’s story is that he’s the step-brother of another well-known trucking magnate: Max Fuller, co-chairman of competitor U.S. Xpress Enterprises. Both companies, ironically, are also headquartered in the same city: Chattanooga, TN.

[U.S. Xpress experienced a much sadder “end of an era” moment back in 2011 with the passing of Co-chairman Pat Quinn. You can read more about Quinn’s contribution to the trucking industry here and here.]

Parker also noted something else during a roundtable conference last year with Werner’s Leathers and Swift’s Stocking; that the industry is undergoing a massive amount of change that, in some ways, would’ve disqualified mean like himself from entering its ranks in the first place.

“You know, I couldn’t drive a truck today because of the speeding tickets I’ve gotten,” Parker pointed out at the time.

At FTR’s annual freight conference last year (the group’s 2016 event kicks off tomorrow) Werner’s Leathers also noted that it is only going to get harder and harder to attract new blood into trucking’s ranks – this from a Princeton trained economist, who knows more than a thing or two about the business of hauling freight.

“Clearly, the problem of the driver shortage is only going to get worse,” he explained at the time. “The demographics are shrinking and total labor pool is smaller. We are spending a tremendous amount of thought on this problem: not only on pay and [giving them] great trucks to drive, but importance of day-to-day terminal network.”

It’s no surprise, then, that the next generation of trucking’s leaders certainly have their work cut out for them.

About the Author

Sean Kilcarr 1 | Senior Editor

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